While The Great Muppet Caper and The Muppet Movie were easily the best that the theatrical outings for Jim Henson's critters had to offer, Muppet Treasure Island was one of the worst. After Henson's passing in 1990, his son Brian took the reigns and dabbled in several projects. The moderately successful Muppet Christmas Carol proved to be a worthwhile excursion into Dickensian lore, but his second attempt at translating literature into a Muppet movie didn't fare as well.
Once again humans are cast in the lead roles and the world is an eclectic blend of man and Muppet where pirates randomly break into song and effeminate boys become heroes. Robert Louis Stevenson's classic tale of buccaneers and high seas adventure remained pretty much intact, though obviously there had to be a few diversions in order to make this version work. The only real problem is that if the humor used in the film was as strong as it was years prior, it would have been stellar. As it stands though the jokes aren't as lively and the characters are severely downplayed.
All of the main Muppets make appearances in this movie, though as I said they step aside to allow the human roles to be front and center. Even so, while Kermit, Fozzie and Miss Piggy play key parts they are often overshadowed by several random Muppets. Most of the screen time gets eaten up by Tim Curry (as Long John Silver) and Kevin Bishop (as Jim Hawkins). The two have decent chemistry, but this is mostly thanks to Curry since Bishop does a fairly poor job with his character.
If you've read Stevenson's writings or have seen any adaptations of the literature, then you pretty much know what to expect here in the grand scheme of things. Jim Hawkins (along with his friends Gonzo and Rizzo) works in a slimy bar for an old maid. One night a regular drunkard saunters into the bar demanding more rum but is interrupted by a blind pirate who marks him for dead. This leaves Hawkins to get possession of a treasure map and with his will to set out on adventure he and his friends do so.
They enlist an incompetent rich fellow (Fozzie) who claims that there is a little man living in his finger. Together they commandeer a vessel find a sea worthy crew of misfits and manager to score Kermit as the noble captain. Long John Silver plays the part of the lowly cook but he has ambitions for mutiny and getting his grubby hands on some buried treasure. I won't spoil the ending for you, but let's just say that it involves a band of tribal pork, a fair amount of double crossing and an unsafe lifeboat.
Unlike the Christmas Carol film, this one tries to do a little bit of self referencing. Unfortunately the gags feel a little forced and the only really funny parts come from Gonzo and Rizzo. The musical numbers are also another area where the movie barely treads water. The soundtrack lacks the personal touch from prior ones and the absence of Paul Williams from the project hurts as well. There are a couple of decent songs, though quite honestly after watching it I couldn't recall any that made a positive impression on me. Muppet Treasure Island isn't a "horrible" movie on its own, but when you stack it up next to other Muppet material it comes up pretty short. Kids may get into it more than adults, but Henson fans of any age will at least have a few laughs before the credits roll.
Much like The Muppet Christmas Carol, Treasure Island was only available in full screen on the previous edition of the film on DVD. Fortunately with the 50th Anniversary installment the movie gets some anamorphic widescreen love and quite frankly, blows the old transfer out of the water. The image is very sharp with brighter colors and noticeably less grain in the new presentation. There are a few minor flaws with the transfer, but that most likely has to do with compression thanks to the inclusion of the full frame ratio on the same side of the disc.
Out of the four recently re-released Muppet features, this one offers up the best quality in terms of audio. The soundstage comes to life with some very clean effects, crisp voices and a little extra oomph when the music starts. Compared to the movies with earlier productions it was nice to have a lively presentation for Kermit and the gang. The English 5.1 Dolby Digital is available for both tracks, though strangely enough the French 5.1 is only present for the full screen format.
On the Christmas Carol anniversary edition we got the same special features ported over from the previous version. Alas, that's not the case with Treasure Island. All that is available on this disc is another Pepe Profile, this time for Fozzie Bear. The material is more of the same with clips, pictures and character interviews.
Muppet Treasure Island is mixed bag of quality when compared to Muppet adventures of the past. There are many gags and jokes that fans will love, but there are also some that severely miss the mark. The Muppets kind of stick to the sidelines a bit in terms of plot and overall story, which was fairly disappointing. Also many of the main characters don't get as much play as they should. If you enjoyed the film before you'll be ecstatic to finally have your hands on the widescreen presentation, but other than that there's really no reason to buy into this DVD. Rent It
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